Beyond the Supernatural: Everyday Horrors in Fiction
Horror doesn't have to be supernatural or paranormal to tap into our deepest fears. In fact, often the uncanny elements in horror work as metaphors for real issues we face in our lives (see my earlier blog post: Horror Fiction as a Metaphor for Real Issues). These mundane horrors expose us to our hidden fears and anxieties in a different way, and while fantastical elements can create thrilling experiences, it's stories that find terror in ordinary situations - situations that can really happen to us - that have a unique resonance.
Relatability plays a huge role in this. Everyday, relatable situations can strike a chord with us, especially if we recognise ourselves or the people we know in the characters and events depicted. These horrors often revolve around universally understood themes like isolation, loss, betrayal, or the fragility of the human mind. We're forced to confront our own vulnerabilities and fears, and in turn connect more deeply with the narrative.
Societal fears are commonly used in mundane horror. By reflecting our anxieties and concerns of the times we live in, these stories serve as a social commentary, shedding light on the darker aspects of society. Some of the big themes include corruption, surveillance, inequality and the erosion of personal freedom. By putting these fears into familiar settings, mundane horror makes us question the world we live in and contemplate the potential consequences of our actions and choices.
Some examples of societal horror can be seen in:
1984, by George Orwell, a classic work of dystopian fiction that explores the horrors of totalitarianism and a surveillance state, where individuality and freedom are suppressed and thought crimes are punished.
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, set in a patriarchal society that controls women's bodies, stripping away their reproductive rights.
The Purge (2013) (and all of its sequels). These films depict a society where all crime, including murder, is legalised for one night each year. Themes include class division, violence, and the consequences of unchecked aggression.
Get Out (2017). A psychological horror that highlights racial tensions and microaggressions within a seemingly ordinary suburban setting.
The Hunt (2020). This film follows a group of wealthy individuals who hunt people from lower social classes for sport, touching on themes of social division and violence.
Stories like these force audiences reflect on the potential consequences of societal issues and power imbalances - and these are things that we can see happening all around us if we only look, which just makes these fictions resonate more deeply.
Psychological torment is a potent tool for mundane horror. We are all inside our own heads all the time, and most of us will have been hit by paranoia, obsession, guilt or questioning our identities at some point in our lives. Psychological stories unnerve us and unsettle our sense of security because most of us can identify in some ways with the core themes. Effective psychological horror forces us to confront our inner demons and question the boundaries of our own sanity.
Examples of psychological horror can be seen in:
Misery, by Stephen King. Most horror fans will be familiar with Misery, or at the very least with Stephen King. Unlike a lot of his monster-based work (which I also love!), this novel tells the story of an acclaimed writer held captive by an obsessed fan, exploring themes of obsession, manipulation and the terrifying power dynamics between captor and captive. The scariest thing for me about Misery is that it could happen (and probably has happened at some point in the past).
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. This psychological thriller revolves around a husband who becomes the primary suspect in his wife's disappearance. It includes themes of deception, toxic relationships and the unraveling of the human psyche.
Black Swan (2010). This psychological horror film follows a ballerina as she descends into madness and obsession while preparing for a demanding role, exploring themes of perfectionism, identity, and the blurring of reality and delusion.
Shutter Island (2010). Set in a mental institution, this film revolves around a U.S. Marshal investigating the disappearance of a patient. It utilises themes of mental illness, trauma and the manipulation of perception.
Ultimately, we are the ones who create horror to scare ourselves and each other. We love shining a light on the darker aspects of humanity - including our own deepest, darkest feelings and fears. Mundane horror often pushes us to analyse our actions and choices, and think about how we would react (or survive) in similar situations.
Are there any mundane horror stories or films that have impacted you lately? Do share them below!